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How to Write a Villanelle

Updated on June 13, 2010

Many people who write poetry consider the villanelle form to be intimidating. I've become known as a "villanelle slut," because it is my favorite form. The repetitious lines of the villanelle has a haunting quality which lends itself well to some subjects. Suppose you want to write a poem about a chronic illness or something that occurs to you repeatedly. On the lighter side, maybe you want to talk about the reliability of family bonds or lasting love. Writing a villanelle can capture that ongoing nature of all these things and more. I hope this guide about how to write a villanelle will help you on your journey.

If you want an example of a villanelle, the most famous villanelle is Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into that Goodnight." I'll give you an example of a villanelle as well:


PTSD

When I exhale and think I'm free,

I set goals and work to achieve.

Once again, he's attacking me.


The nightmare face is all I see

The image dissolves . I'm naïve

when I exhale and think I'm free.


Painted dreams, inked philosophy

Energy and talent I weave

Once again, he's attacking me.


The demon sleaze, my enemy,

fades to shadow. To light, I cleave

when I exhale and think I'm free.


Ah, sleep! Thanks to psychiatry,

weeks without pain until one eve.

Once again, he's attacking me.


Eye slits and knife forever be

nightmares he gave. Freedom I grieve.

When I exhale and think I'm free,

once again, he's attacking me.



When writing a villanelle, there are a few key guidelines. Though the villanelle is not as strict with meter as some forms, each line must have the same syllable count. The first and third lines of the villanelle repeat throughout the form. You can see the alternating placement at the end of the stanzas.

One of the potentially interesting features of this form is that the first and third lines appear together at the end of the poem. This gives the poet a chance to play with the separate meaning of the lines and any alteration of meaning when the lines are together. After I decide what I want my villanelle to be about, I always write these two lines first. I consider how the lines will be at the end of stanzas as well as how they work together to form a conclusion of the poem.

The second line of each stanza rhymes. All the other lines of the villanelle rhyme with the first and third lines. Therefore, when choosing the wording of the first and third lines, you want to make sure you will have enough rhymes with those words that will fit comfortably in the poem of your chosen topic and not feel forced.

If you found this hub from a search for a PTSD poem and would like more information about PTSD, please visit my website: PTSDcentral.com

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    • Wondering SLO profile image

      Sheldon Overlock 

      3 years ago from Maine

      Thank you for the explanation, I am going to attempt writing my first Villanelle

    • bellartdesigns profile image

      bellartdesigns 

      6 years ago from Fredericksburg, Virginia

      I wanted to take a moment to say thank you for writing this hub. My daughter was looking at it with me and you did such a great job of explaining it that it inspired her to write a Villanelle of her own. She is only in the 6th grade and she completely impressed her teacher (she only had one mistake (a spelling error) the rest was perfect - so...thank you!

    • jhamann profile image

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      6 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you for the tutorial of a form I love to read and for the great PTSD poem.

    • SheliaKay profile image

      SheliaKay 

      7 years ago from Marietta, Ohio..... but born and raised in Northern Ohio on Lake Erie

      I have been studying different styles of Poetry, and I find this style to be my favorite. Very informative Hub. You made it sound less intimidating. I loved the poem as well. You've got my vote.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      7 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      The PTSD poem hit home.

      Beautiful. I will look further into villanele poems.

    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      8 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you. I have PTSD and I've wanted to write a poem about it for the longest time.

    • palmerlarryray profile image

      Larry Ray Palmer 

      8 years ago from Macon, Missouri

      Awesome tutorial and the poem was wonderful. My son has PTSD and I think your poem captured it perfectly. Keep up the good work.

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